BOOKS: The Master’s Cat: The Story of Charles Dickens as told by his Cat
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2006:
The Master’s Cat: The Story of Charles Dickens as told by his Cat
by Eleanor Poe Barlow
Dickens Publishing (Dickens House, 48 Doughty Street, London, WC1N
132 pages. $16.95/paperback, $24.00 hardcover.
Charles Dickens’ fictionalized exposes of social ills in 19th
century England led to a raft of social, legal, and educational
reforms, and inspired the rise of liberal thinking.
Dickens was very fond of his cat and several dogs, with whom
he used to take long walks in the countryside almost every day.
Dickens was also instrumental in enabling Mary Tealby to make a
success of Dogs Home Battersea. But before society could evolve
toward more caring treatment of animals, it had to create a culture
of caring for humans. It had to abolish slavery, emancipate women,
and invent a social safety net to help the unfortunate. No one did
more than Dickens to achieve those goals.
Perhaps what the animal rights movement needs today, more
than anything else, is a writer of Dickens’ stature, whose passion,
intellect, and literary skill could bring whole nations to tears
over the plight of animals caught up in factory farms, canned hunts,
and ruthless animal control measures.
The Master’s Cat, by Eleanor Poe Barlow, describes the man
behind the legendary characters whom Dickens created. The story is
told by the deaf cat who slept on Dickens’ desk while he wrote. This
cat developed the unusual trick of dabbing at the candle flame and
thus snuffing it out when he felt that it was time to stop.
We have read many Dickens novels, and have always wondered
what sort of man had such an imagination. As Barlow’s cat says,
“Charles Dickens lived a life as fascinating as that of any character
he created. It was full of sadness and joy, poverty and wealth,
mystery and fame.”
The cat describes how Dickens lived his last ten years, his
happy family at Gad’s Hill Estate in Kent, his joys and sorrows,
his chronic pain from ill health, the excitement of a private
audience with Queen Victoria, and the tragedy of the Staplehurst
train crash, when Dickens escaped death by a whisker, being
serendipitously seated in the fifth carriage of the train, as the
first four carriages plunged into a river with great loss of life.
–Chris Mercer & Bev Pervan